Skip to main content Accessibility help

Neonatal lamb vigour is improved by feeding docosahexaenoic acid in the form of algal biomass during late gestation

  • R. M. Pickard (a1), A. P. Beard (a1), C. J. Seal (a1) and S. A. Edwards (a1)


To determine whether feeding a sustainable, algal source of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) to sheep during late pregnancy would improve neonatal lamb vigour, 48 English mule ewes, of known conception date, were divided into four treatment groups. For the last 9 weeks of gestation, ewes received one of two dietary supplements: either a DHA-rich algal biomass providing 12 g DHA/ewe per day, or a control supplement based on vegetable oil. The four dietary treatment groups (n = 12) were: control supplement for the duration of the trial (C), DHA supplement from 9 to 6 weeks before parturition (3 week), DHA supplement from 9 to 3 weeks before parturition (6 week) and DHA supplement for the duration of the trial (9 week). Dietary supplements were fed alongside grass silage and commercial concentrate. There was a tendency for gestation length to be extended with increased duration of DHA supplementation (P = 0.08). After parturition, the concentrations of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and DHA in ewe and lamb plasma and colostrum were elevated in line with increased periods of DHA supplementation. Lambs from the 6-week and 9-week groups stood significantly sooner after birth than lambs from the C group (P < 0.05). These data show that neonatal vigour may be improved by the supplementation of maternal diets with DHA-rich algal biomass and that this beneficial effect depends upon the timing and/or duration of DHA allocation.


Corresponding author


Hide All
Abayasekara, DRE, Wathes, DC 1999. Effects of altering dietary fatty acid composition on prostaglandin synthesis and fertility. Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids 61, 275287.
Alexander, G 1958. Behaviour of newly born lambs. Proceedings of the Australian Society of Animal Production 2, 123125.
Annett RW, Carson AF and Dawson LER 2004. Effects of concentrate DUP content and fish oil inclusion on colostrum production and lamb output from mature ewes. Proceedings of the Irish Grassland and Animal Production Association (IGAPA), 22.
Baguma-Nibasheka, M, Brenna, JT, Nathanielsz, PW 1999. Delay of preterm delivery in sheep by omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturates. Biology of Reproduction 60, 698701.
Barclay, WR, Abril, JR, Abril, P 1997. Retroconversion of long chain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in animals. Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids 57, 254.
Bowen, RAR, Clandinin, MT 2005. Maternal dietary 22:6n-3 is more effective than 18:3n-3 in increasing the 22:6n-3 content in phospholipids of glial cells from neonatal rat brain. British Journal of Nutrition 93, 601611.
Capper JL 2005. The effect of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid and vitamin E supplementation of ewes on neonatal lamb behaviour and performance. PhD Thesis, Harper Adams University College.
Capper, JL, Wilkinson, RG, Mackenzie, AM, Sinclair, LA 2006. Polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation during pregnancy alters neonatal behavior in sheep. Journal of Nutrition 136, 397403.
Carlson, SE 2001. Docosahexaenoic acid and arachidonic acid in infant development. Seminars in Neonatology 6, 437449.
Cooper SL, Sinclair LA, Wilkinson RG, Chikunya S, Hallett K, Enser M and Wood JD 2002. Rumen biohydrogenation of polyunsaturated fatty acid sources and their effect on plasma fatty acid status in sheep. Proceedings of the British Society of Animal Science, 177.
Dawson LER and Edgar H 2005. Effect of source and level of fish oil for ewes in late pregnancy on subsequent performance. Proceedings of the British Society of Animal Science, 141.
Dutta-Roy, AK 2000. Transport mechanisms for long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in the human placenta. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 71, 315S322S.
Elmes, M, Tew, P, Cheng, Z, Kirkup, SE, Abayasekara, DRE, Calder, PC, Hanson, MA, Wathes, DC, Burdge, GC 2004. The effect of dietary supplementation with linoleic acid to late gestation ewes on the fatty acid composition of maternal and fetal plasma and tissues and the synthetic capacity of the placenta for 2-series prostaglandins. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) – Molecular and Cell Biology of Lipids 1686, 139147.
Favreliere, S, Barrier, L, Durand, G, Chalon, S, Tallineau, C 1998. Chronic dietary n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids deficiency affects the fatty acid composition of plasmenylethanolamine and phosphatidylethanolamine differently in rat frontal cortex, striatum, and cerebellum. Lipids 33, 401407.
FIN 2006. Annual Review of the feed grade fish stocks used to produce fish meal and fish oil for the UK market. Retrieved July 23, 2006, from
Gentle KL, Scott-Baird EK, Pickard RM, Beard AP, Butler G and Edwards SA 2006. Supplementation of pregnant ewe diets with docosahexaenoic acid reduces lamb suckling latency. Proceedings of the 40th International Congress of the International Society for Applied Ethology, 130.
Green, P, Glozman, S, Kamensky, B, Yavin, E 1999. Developmental changes in rat brain membrane lipids and fatty acids: the preferential prenatal accumulation of docosahexaenoic acid. Journal of Lipid Research 40, 960966.
Haggarty, P, Page, K, Abramovich, DR, Ashton, J, Brown, D 1997. Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid transport across the perfused human placenta. Placenta 18, 635642.
Honstra, G, van Houwelingen, AC, Kivits, GAA, Fischer, S, Uedelhoven, W 1990. Influence of dietary fish on eicosanoid metabolism in man. Prostaglandins 40, 311329.
Innis, SM 2000. The role of dietary n-6 and n-3 fatty acids in the developing brain. Developmental Neuroscience 22, 474480.
Kitessa, SM, Peake, D, Bencini, R, Williams, AJ 2003. Fish oil metabolism in ruminants: III. Transfer of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) from tuna oil into sheep’s milk. Animal Feed Science and Technology 108, 114.
Lands, WEM 1986. The fate of polyunsaturated fatty acids. In Health effects of poyunsaturated fatty adids in seafoods (ed. AP Simopoulos, RR Kifer and RE Martin), pp. 3348. Orlando, Florida, Academic Press Inc.
Makrides, M, Neumann, M, Byard, R, Simmer, K, Gibson, R 1994. Fatty acid composition of brain, retina, and erythrocytes in breast- and formula-fed infants. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 60, 189194.
O’Brien, JS, Sampson, EL 1965. Fatty acid and fatty aldehyde composition of the major brain lipids in normal human gray matter, white matter, and myelin. Journal of Lipid Research 6, 545551.
Olsen, SF, Hansen, HS, Sorensen, JD, Jensen, B, Secher, NJ, Sommer, S, Knudsen, LB 1986. Intake of marine fat rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids may increase birthweight by prolonging gestation. The Lancet 2, 367369.
Owens, JL, Bindon, BM, Edey, TN, Piper, LR 1985. Behaviour at parturition and lamb survival of Booroola Merino sheep. Livestock Production Science 13, 359372.
Passingham, RE 1985. Rates of brain development in mammals including man. Brain, Behaviour and Evolution 26, 167175.
Pickard RM, Beard AP, Cain PJ, Madgwick S, Hawken PAR and Edwards SA 2004. Supplementation of ewe gestation diets with algal DHA and effects on neonatal lamb viability. Proceedings of the 3rd Euro Fed Lipid Congress and Expo, 312.
Rooke, JA, Sinclair, AG, Edwards, SA 2001. Feeding tuna oil to the sow at different times during pregnancy has different effects on piglet long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid composition at birth and subsequent growth. British Journal of Nutrition 86, 2130.
Sinclair, LA, Cooper, SL, Chikunya, S, Wilkinson, RG, Hallett, KG, Enser, M, Wood, JD 2005. Biohydrogenation of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in the rumen and their effects on microbial metabolism and plasma fatty acid concentrations in sheep. Animal Science 81, 239248.
Slee, J, Springbett, A 1986. Early post-natal behaviour in lambs of ten breeds. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 15, 229240.
Sukhija, PS, Palmquist, DL 1988. Rapid method for determination of total fatty acid content and composition of feedstuffs and feces. Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry 36, 12021206.
Svennerholm, L 1968. Distribution and fatty acid composition of phosphoglycerides in normal human brain. Journal of Lipid Research 9, 570579.
Trebble, TM, Wootton, SA, Miles, EA, Mullee, M, Arden, NK, Ballinger, AB, Stroud, MA, Burdge, GC, Calder, PC 2003. Prostaglandin E2 production and T cell function after fish-oil supplementation: response to antioxidant cosupplementation. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 78, 376382.
Turley, S, Burns, D, Rosenfeld, C, Dietschy, J 1996. Brain does not utilize low density lipoprotein-cholesterol during fetal and neonatal development in the sheep. Journal of Lipid Research 37, 19531961.


Neonatal lamb vigour is improved by feeding docosahexaenoic acid in the form of algal biomass during late gestation

  • R. M. Pickard (a1), A. P. Beard (a1), C. J. Seal (a1) and S. A. Edwards (a1)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed